Update 2: Knowing When to Ask for Help

As my sixth week comes to an end, the amount of mental fortitude needed to be a successful researcher truly stands out to me. I sent a draft of my nearly completed paper to my adviser a couple weeks ago, and implementing her suggested revisions has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Revising a nearly twenty page document filled with sub-argument upon sub-argument requires a clarity and organization that is very difficult to reach. Social science research that is at its core theoretical represents a central puzzle underpinned by innumerable mini-puzzles, making it very frustrating. Furthermore, having faith in myself and trusting that, at the end of the day, I’ll have a final product that contributes something meaningful to the feminist and political science literature has been particularly hard for me this last week. I’ve compiled all of the data concerning the seventeen democratic party platforms between 1952 and 2017, and the results suggest some ways that I can reframe my paper. While I initially framed the paper in a way that suggested important parallels between the core feminist ideologies of liberalism and intersectionality, the results have a richer use in that they allude to the way in which feminist demands are translated into institutional discourse. An emphasis on translation and thus important differences/concessions that arise from the process of institutional incorporation is interesting for its ability to illuminate patterns of social movement and political party partnerships. I at first felt like using the results to reframe the focus of my paper was akin to cheating, but my adviser comfortingly pointed out that all research is iterative, meaning that a unique value held by results rests in their ability to pinpoint which questions can, and thus should be answered. Eliminating hypothesis and initial theorizing is all part of the process.

As the above information highlights, I’ve learned the importance of collaboration and support systems in developing one’s research. I was really stuck for a week on how to proceed, and I learned the importance of asking for help and direction from other researchers (my advisor). By pursuing self-designed, original research, I lacked the guidance provided in the traditional classroom setting. Followingly, I struggled deeply with my paper until I recognized the reality that research is fundamentally about community, teamwork, and mutuality, meaning that asking for help and direction is not a sign of weakness or inability, but a central part of the process. As the research process comes to an end in the next two weeks, I know that I’ll be struggling. While struggling can and will breed brilliance, it’s important to recognize when to ask for help, and I now know this.

Fellow researchers, remember to have faith in yourself and don’t ever be afraid to ask for help!


  1. Leia Moran says:

    Hi Rebecca! Thanks so much for sharing the obstacles you’ve faced while researching and writing. I very much empathize with a lot of the struggles you mentioned, particularly regarding social science research. I have also become frustrated while trying to navigate all of the intricate pieces that make up the larger puzzle. Additionally, it has been challenging to present my argument in a coherently structured essay when these types of topics are often more conducive to a verbal seminar where questions are asked and multiple perspectives are juxtaposed. Nevertheless, I too am motivated by researching a topic that is socially and politically relevant and gaining importance. I commend you for reaching out for help when it is needed―after all, feminism relies on so much teamwork and mutuality as well!

  2. Natalie Walter says:

    I relate to this post so much right now and I think it is a really important lesson I am learning while I am researching. I am essentially going through the same process at the moment, and learning how to work through this rough point in my research is really teaching me how to support my theories, organize my thoughts, and have faith in my research in and in myself. What are some of your techniques for continuing to research and work through problems even when it seems like it will never be over or you are too tired to go on?

  3. I definitely relate to this! I am also conducting original research this summer, and interviewed a large group of participants about teen drinking. Without direct instruction, I got slightly bogged down in the data and tried to do too much with it. I felt I needed to address every tiny point, even unimportant ones. My mother, a researcher herself, encouraged me to whittle down my findings into a few key points and themes so that my final product would be cleaner and my recommendations more impactful. She also encouraged me to focus on coding and analyzing the portions of each interview that fit my conclusion. However, I felt that it was “cheating” to narrow my focus and not discuss all my takeaways from the project. After asking her for advice, she helped me see that all researchers must perform this sort of whittling down of their focus. Going too broad and trying to do too much can muddy the results, and can be just as frustrating as choosing a topic that is too specific. Also, researchers may find patterns at the end of their study, and it’s perfectly acceptable to reinforce them by going back through the data and changing the initial query. Like you, I felt much better after asking for help and learning more about the research process! Your project sounds incredibly interesting and best of luck with the rest of it!

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